Doctor In Your House: Saving money on prescription drugs

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Ordering your prescriptions through the mail can help you save money. Most health care plans allow patients to order their medicines online instead of having to visit a pharmacy. Many health plans will decrease the cost if your medicines are ordered through the mail. As a result, you will receive a 90-day supply as opposed to the usual 30-day supply from the pharmacy. Why wait in line at the pharmacy when you can save gas, time and energy by just ordering online?

Another way to save a few dollars is to order a three- month supply of your medicines on a pharmacy website. Walgreens and CVS have this available. If you must go to a pharmacy, then I have generally found Costco and Walmart to offer the lowest prices.

Let’s look at four additional strategies to spend less on your prescription medications. Yes, you can still get the best health care in the world but at a much lower price.

Strategy Number 1: In most cases you can use a generic drug instead of a brand name drug. There is a big misunderstanding about generics. Many people feel that generics won’t be as effective as the brand name drug. Actually, generics are regulated by the FDA and must have absorption data that are within 4 percent of a branded medicine.

Also, generics become cheaper over time as more generics of a single drug are produced. When Lipitor went generic (atorvastatin), the cost was initially higher. As more varieties of atorvastatin are produced, the cost will continue to decrease.

Make an appointment with your doctor specifically to review medications. Ask the doctor if there is a generic equivalent available for any drugs that you are taking. If the drug does not have a generic, then ask for a therapeutic interchange. In other words, the doctor could possibly substitute a generic drug that is in the same family as the branded drug.

Wal-Mart and Target now provide hundreds of prescription medicines (many generics) for only $4 per month or $3.33 per month if you buy a 90-day supply. Costco has a similar program too.

Strategy Number 2: If generics don’t save you money then consider buying your medicines from Canada. This is legal to do.

Three well-known and respected Canadian mail-order pharmacies are: TCDS.com (888-372-2252), Canadameds.com (877-542-3330), and CanadaPharmacy.com (800-891-0844). If you can plan ahead, mail-order services can save a bundle.

Counterfeit drugs are a problem if you are ordering from a foreign pharmacy. Make sure that the pharmacy has the approval of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). They have developed the VIPPS accreditation program. This should be posted on the website or the pharmacy should be able to produce proof of VIPPS accreditation.

Strategy Number 3: The best-kept secret of the drug business is that you can get almost any prescription drug at no cost but there are certain financial qualifications.

Go to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website (www.pparx.org) and click on the button for patients. Just enter the medications that you take and fill out the easy form. The website will tell you which drugs are eligible for financial assistance and from what pharmaceutical company.

Alternatively, if you know the drug company that manufactures your medicine, call that specific company and ask if they have a “patient assistance program.”

Some patients even qualify if they are making $50,000 dollars a year or less.

Strategy Number 4: Want to know the nearest place to buy the cheapest medications? Visit www.goodrx.com. This site also compares the prices of drugs at different pharmacies and includes discount coupon offers.

Doctor’s Summary: Make an appointment with your physician to save on prescription medicines. Consider bulk ordering, generic substitutions, therapeutic interchanges, VIPPS certified foreign pharmacies, pharmaceutical assistance programs and the GoodRx website.

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Dr. Evan Lipkis, MD, is a physician, author and lecturer based in Glenview, Illinois. The advice contained in this column is for informational purposes only. Readers should consult with their physician to evaluate any illness or medical condition. Contact Dr. Lipkis through his web site at: www.drlipkis.com